The Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research (MPCER) promotes environmental research and education to understand critical environmental processes and the implications of change resulting from human activities. Through both cross-disciplinary research and education, the MPCER is helping to expand the scientific knowledge and understanding needed to develop effective strategies for meeting environmental challenges, including climate change and biodiversity loss. 

When the MPCER was established in 1998, it initially focused its efforts on the Colorado Plateau, a province that covers portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The Colorado Plateau is home to spectacular natural treasures and a diverse range of cultures. For example, it has the greatest concentration of National Park Service units in the country, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Mesa Verde National Parks. This region is also is the ancestral home to the Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai, White Mountain Apache, and Kaibab Paiute.

While this region supports vast biological treasures, its resources are under increasing pressure from both human and climatic forces. Climate change and its effects, including drought and wide-spread tree die-offs, as well as pressures to develop natural resources leave the plateau facing tremendous environmental challenges in the future. For example, as of 2012, an estimated 2.5 million acres of pinyon pine and juniper trees in the Southwest have been killed as the result primarily of drought and pine beetles in the past 15 years.

An important element of MPCER's vision has been a focus on scaling up, or transferring what has been learned locally to regional and global settings. Today, MPCER researchers are working throughout the United States and in places that are as far flung as the Mariana Islands, a group of islands found south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean that form a Commonwealth of the United States.

Building research and education infrastructure

As the MPCER grew, it became clear that important infrastructure was needed to not only address pressing research questions, but also to improve educational opportunities and workforce development. As the result of collaboration with other institutions and organizations, the MPCER has been instrumental in creating facilities and services that support research and education, including the Merriam-Powell Research Station, Colorado Plateau Biodiversity Center, and the Geospatial Research and Information Laboratory. Additionally, MPCER is affiliated with a wide range of partners that provide critical support to the research and educational communities.


Collaboration is a theme that runs through all of MPCER’s efforts, including its emphasis on cross-disciplinary research and program and project development. Importantly, the MPCER fosters collaborations among not only scientists, but also public and private land managers and educators. The Southwest Experimental Garden Array, or SEGA, is a good example of the MPCER’s cooperative approach. The 10 gardens in the array will be established in partnership with the Arboretum at Flagstaff, National Forest Service, National Park Service, Babbitt Ranches, The Nature Conservancy, and Walnut Creek Center for Education and Research.

Historical notes

The MPCER takes its name and its inspiration from two pioneering researchers: C. Hart Merriam, who developed the life zone concept for describing areas with similar plants and animals on the basis of observations made while doing surveys on northern Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, and John Wesley Powell, who led the first expedition to successfully navigate and survey the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. In honor of the contributions of both of these outstanding scientists, the MPCER seeks to carry on their tradition of bold scientific inquiry and practice of working with many different people to help advance all people.